Islamabad (AsiaNews) – A Pakistani journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, was found dead yesterday in Sarai Almagir, about 150 kilometres from Islamabad, after he was abducted, tortured and killed by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), this according to various journalists and activists contacted by AsiaNews. In their view, the way the kidnapping was carried out and the marks on the body have all the hallmarks of the infamous ISI rather than the Taliban. He was targeted because of his recent investigations, the most of which focused on the recent Taliban attack against the Pakistan Naval Station in Mehran. In his article, Shahzad showed how extremists have infiltrated the high echelons of the military.
Syed Saleem Shahzad’s funeral was held today at 1.30 pm in Karachi, capital of Sindh province. The 40-year-old married father of three (two boys, 13 and 7, and one girl, 11), was a Karachi native, but had moved with his family to Islamabad, where he worked for Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online, and also with some Italian media outlets (La Stampa and AdnKronos).
He disappeared on Sunday evening, when he left home, heading for a television station where he was scheduled to take part in a talkshow.
His body was found yesterday in Head Rasul, an area in Mandi Bahauddin District, Punjab. Earlier, investigators had found his car near Sahara-i-Alamgir, some ten kilometres from where his body was found.
The government has already announced the creation of commission of inquiry to investigate security forces and ISI involvement. Investigators are leaving all doors open, from religious extremists to other political groups. However, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who extended his condolences to the family on behalf of the government, suggested that the murder might be a “personal vendetta”.
Still, most fingers point to the secret services as the most likely culprit for the murder of a journalist who was an expert in Islamic terrorism and domestic affairs.
Syed’s brother-in-law, Hamza Ameer, said, “He was a very brave journalist” who was not afraid of possible retaliation for his work.
He left home around 5:30 pm, but soon after his mobile phone stopped responding. “The news channel tried to contact him several times” without success. They eventually called the family.
“We rushed to the Margalla police station,” Ameer said, “and lodged a complaint about Shahzad`s mysterious disappearance."
At present, his wife and other relatives are not speaking, staying away from the media.
According to Islamabad Police Wajid Durrani, inspector general of the Islamabad police, Syed was “kidnapped close to his residence.” He added, “There were clear signs of torture on the body”.
The post mortem report indicates that the cause of death was liver failure and ruptured lungs, with 15 visible wounds on the body and broken ribs.
“Saleem Shahzad’s last story [. . .] revealed how Al Qaeda had penetrated the Pakistan Navy,” said Najam Sethi, an analyst and editor in chief of The Friday Times, who rejected police allegations that the Taliban were involved in the abduction.
The latter usually “take their victim to North Waziristan or the Tribal areas,” he said. Once in their stronghold, “they interrogate and release a complete video showing the whole world that they have abducted someone,” but this did not occur in the case of the journalist. “My experience points a finger at the intelligence agencies,” Sethi said.
In fact, “several years ago, Saleem Shahzad got into a fight and was shot in the left side in the ribs. He ultimately survived, but his left ribs were weak. “Another injury on his left side would have been fatal,” which is what happened.
“I have also experienced torture by the agencies back in 1999,” Sethi noted. “I barely survived a heart attack during the interrogation”.
Friend and fellow journalist Omar Waraich said that Shahzad had complained of threats from the ISI over the recent articles he wrote. He was picked up just days after he wrote his last report, in which he made some explosive allegations regarding the PNS Mehran attack (see Jibran Khan, “Karachi: Pakistani Taliban attack military base, killing 11,” in AsiaNews, 23 May 2011), which was caused by a breakdown between the military and the Taliban over the release of some prisoners.
"On Sunday evening Saleem Shahzad was suppose to speak about the PNS Mehran attack,” said Nasim Zehra, director of current affairs at Dunya News Channel.
For Human Rights Watch Pakistan representative Ali Dayan Hasan, Saleem Shahzad was abducted by the ISI. His case is similar to others blamed on the security agencies.
In September of last year, a journalist was kidnapped, beaten, tortured and raped. His attackers were never found but are thought to be ISI men.
According to Reporters without Borders, Pakistan ranks 151st out of 178 in terms of press freedom. This year, at least ten journalists have been killed doing their work.